Susan Press meets the staff who are winning the fight to curb absenteeism levels at a Leeds school
A Leeds school is at the forefront of a citywide campaign to curb levels of absenteeism.
Ralph Thoresby High School in Holt Park has put in place a series of measures which are designed to ensure that their attendance figures continue to improve-and that students are offered specialist support and advice.
Across the school, small mentoring groups of around 15 pupils are now bringing together youngsters and staff to talk things over and raise the students’aspirations and achievements.
Non-teaching staff with specialist experience in pastoral care also help monitor key issues like illness,family problems and other reasons why children stay away from school.
At the other end of the scale, 100 per cent attendance records are rewarded with special prizes and certificates.
Headteacher Stuart Hemingway says he is delighted at the progress being made at the school.
He said: “It has been a real collective effort to improve our performance, particularly in relation to absenteeism and we are making real progress.
“There has been a strong improvement in attendance and we are trying to make sure we have all our systems in place to ensure that we carry on getting it right,that our school registers are accurate and also to focus on issues like how as an organisation we pull together.
“The mentoring groups make sure there is constant personal contact,that we are kept informed if parents are ill and also if a family issue needs addressing.”
The overall attendance rate at Ralph Thoresby is now up to around 92 per cent.
Persistent absenteeism has almost halved in recent years from 8.2 per cent of the school’s pupils to 4.8 per cent.
Assistant headteacher Sue Woollard,who is helping co-ordinate the anti-absenteesim strategy, said: “Praise is absolutely essential to our students and we need to raise their aspirations and motivate them as much as we can to attend school regularly.
Parents also need to be made aware that they should not take extended holidays,that these days coursework carries on all year round and that it’s not just a question of taking exams at the end of the year.”
Across Leeds, council bosses have also vowed to push the absentee figures down in the city’s schools.
Figures show that in 2009/10,the overall level of secondary school attendance in Leeds was 91.6 per cent compared to 93.24 per cent and 93.16 per cent nationally.
However, the city’s schools have also seen a gradual increase in secondary attendance since 2000/01 when it was 89.8 per cent.
Members of the executive board have just given the nod to measures that they hope will keep up the good work over the next nine months.
An official report shows that 23 out of the city’s 35 maintained secondary schools successfully reduced their levels of persistent absence.
And a string of measures has now been approved, including an incentive scheme for families whose children already have good attendance.
Education Leeds is also working with NHS Leeds and others to address the issue of medical and dental appointments which are made during the school day and is working with schools to gather absence data more regularly for analysis.
Nigel Richardson, director of children’s services, said: “Leeds has improving levels of attendance,persistent absence and exclusions which can only boost achievement and positive outcomes for our children and young people.
“The challenge we face is to close the gap for identified groups of pupils and work with individual schools that need our support.
“The overall picture is pleasing but there is still room for improvement and we will continue to work to raise standards wherever we can.”
Statistics from Education Leeds show that pupils with special educational needs are as much as four and a half times more likely to be persistently absent.
The executive board has agreed to target pupils with 60 –70 per cent attendance as it believes early intervention is more effective in tackling problems.
It will also train 30 people to address attendance and truancy and issue guidance to schools and families regarding requests for extended leave.
Other recommendations include working with schools to gather absence data more frequently and developing new ways of setting targets for each school.